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How to Research When You're Not an Expert

Writing on various science and history topics has proven to be the perfect kind of work for me. It's not easy. In fact, my first drafts are embarrassing. But I know how to make the facts shine: it's through the magic of revisions. Before I get to that first draft and later revisions, I need to know my topic. Thankfully I don't have to be an expert with a doctorate to write nonfiction.

But I do need to do my research.
My readers expect me to know my topic. And if I'm going to write about a child's favorite animal or an important historic even, there's already going to be a lot of information out there they already know. I need to dig deep to add value and golden nuggets of truth to my writing. 

It thrills me to read social media posts and reviews of my books--even my picture books--and see that even adults are engaged and learning! I'm not a herpetologist (or even a biologist), but I loved researching and writing Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs. (Affiliate link.) I went beyond the basics.  And readers noticed. 
Here are just two Amazon reviewer's thoughts: 

    #1 "I liked this book because the author knows just what facts are most fascinating for kids. And of course kids love to see pictures--this book is designed to balance the text with larger-than-life photography of frogs and their habitats so as not to be too text-heavy. We learned AT LEAST two new things about frogs on every page!"

    #2 "I love the format of this book, because it is so inviting. Each spread presents a question, and then answers that question. It's simple but very effective. I read this book from cover to cover and learned tons about frogs. But any reader of any age could also just flip through - if the questions don't grab your attention, the great photography will. Flipping through, you can't help but get pulled into the text. When you take the time to look, frogs are fascinating creatures. This book does a great job presenting that in a way that any kid can appreciate. Toward the end, there is information about finding frogs in nature and also an activity to build a backyard toad house; both great ways to give young naturalists hands-on experiences beyond the book."

I sincerely appreciate these reviews. I'm grateful that readers have noticed the research I do...not just in The Truth About series, but also in my other books like The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide.
Want to know more about research for your writing? I have a guest blog post called 5 Steps to Research When You're Not an Expert over at Write2Ignite. Here's the quick summary.

1. Gather baseline knowledge. 
2. Take notes.
3. Keep track of sources.
4. Consult with an expert.
5. Get hands-on. 

There's so much more to pre-writing than just research, and there's so much more to research than this little list. But this will get you started. I like to teach other writers and provide resources, so I've written a few other blog posts, too, about the writing process. Here are just a couple to get you started.

How to Brainstorm a Nonfiction Writing Project (I typically do this before and after gathering baseline knowledge.)
Write2Ignite has invited me to teach a masterclass in my favorite topic: children's nonfiction! I'm teaching three workshops. One workshop is devoted to research. In addition, there will be hands-on activities, and you'll hear from others in the publishing industry, too. We'll spend the day together online on September 10, 2022. Registration opens on August 1, so be on the lookout! EDITED: Registration is now OPEN! Check out all the details for this nonfiction masterclass! 
If you can't attend this online workshop, consider asking your writing group to invite me to lead a workshop or a day at a writing conference. 

Be sure to check out all of my blog posts related to research

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  1. Thanks for sharing about W2I's class. We're so excited to have you teach us!

  2. These are such great techniques, Annette. I'm looking forward to your nonfiction master class on Write2Ignite!

  3. These are great technigues for researching, Annette. I'm looking forward to your nonfiction master class with Write2Ignite.